It came from outer space.
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If you’ve played an XCOM game in the past, then you know the chryssalid, the most frightening-looking alien the games depict. In XCOM 2's multiplayer, you will get the chance to command one of these extraterrestrial meanies for yourself, but most of the time, you will face a chryssalid as an opponent. Developer Firaxis hopes to make this gruesome unit an even more intimidating force in the upcoming strategy sequel, and lead producer Garth DeAngelis recently divulged how the team is doing just that.
GAMESPOT: So the chryssalid returns, but outside of multiplayer, there's no chance of somehow recruiting one to join the XCOM forces, I presume?
DEANGELIS: The chryssalid is very much still one of the alien occupiers of Earth. They are against XCOM. They will never become a part of your army.
We had to have them come back. They've been a staple of XCOM, harkening back to the original UFO defense. A couple of decades have taken place since you lost in Enemy Unknown. A lot of the enemies have evolved. Now, the chryssalid, they're a little bit too crazy of a species to integrate human DNA into them, but they have evolved. They've received some upgrades. What they did in Enemy Unknown, is they implanted XCOM with something that would then breed another chryssalid out of them, if you remember. It was a pretty terrifying sequence. Design said, "How can we make this crazier?"
Now they've become even more poisonous. They can't just poison you with the Chryssalid Kiss as they did with Enemy Unknown. Every time they strike you, the tips of their claws have a poison on them. You can receive a chryssalid poison effect with any attack. If you happen to die while that chryssalid poison attack is active, then the soldier that died, or the civilian, can then enter this gestation period, and they will become a cocoon. If that cocoon does not get destroyed by XCOM within a to-be-determined amount of turns, then three chryssalids can pop out. We now have chryssalids running more rampant than in Enemy Unknown. They found a way to breed faster, to multiply more. It is very terrifying to now see chryssalids on a mission. Certainly, if there are civilians nearby too, these things can multiply like crazy.
Of course, design-wise, we had to do a few tweaks that are happening now to make sure that it's not unfair. I think if people hear three chryssalids at the same exact hit points that we had in Enemy Unknown, it was enough trouble dealing with them what they were. They're a little bit more brittle in XCOM 2. They can be taken down a little bit easier, but it is overwhelming just to see the sheer number of volume that can come at you if you allow them to go through this cocoon process.
That's not the only thing they can do. They can do one other really cool thing. What else would make a chryssalid more terrifying? If they could disappear. Now they can actually burrow underground. When you're walking through maps, you don't know where they are, if they've burrowed underground. We will have counterplay that we're not talking about now through items and gear to be able to get in front of that if you choose to, but at any moment, and this actually happened to me the other day, you're walking along, and a chryssalid literally jumped out of the ground and took me down. I had no idea they were there. They are nightmarish. They are very terrifying. We wanted to push them further. We love them as an iconic alien in XCOM franchise, and those are the things that they can do.
You're saying they're terrifying and now obviously that they can burrow underground, and that just adds another element to that. But I think of something like a cliff racer, if you've ever played Morrowind, and there's a fine line between, "Oh, my god, that's horrifying. I want to avoid its attack," and, "Wow, this is super annoying and I hate it. I'm pressing the off switch." What are the lines do you think in creating the chryssalid in this way between "we want to challenge the player, but we don't want to annoy the player?"
It's also more challenging because everyone has different opinions with their personal play experience, and how they play, and how something felt to them psychologically. We think we did a fairly good job with the chryssalid overall. It was terrifying, that high move distance. It was deadly if it got close, but you had solid counterplay to take care of it. You generally had a chance to retreat. Overwatch was very effective against it. In Enemy Within, you had things like the proximity mine. You had ways to really counter against it. We need to push those things forward with X2. That's what I was alluding to with the burrow. You will have counterplay for it.
We've done things like nerf the hit points a little bit on the baseline chryssalid to make sure that since they can now spawn into three instead of one it is not unreasonable. That all comes with playtesting and talking with design and hearing people's experiences internally to make sure that we have that just right. You're absolutely right. That's paramount. You can't push these things to a point where it's a very fine precipice between challenging fun and, 'You know what? I don't want to go back into that game.' We have to be super cognizant of that.
How will we be able to put these abilities to use in multiplayer?
It's pretty straightforward. We're pretty excited about giving the players the tools for everything they encounter in the game. Then you can make your dream team. They will have costs based on the units that you choose, and then you'll have some chances with soldiers who select different abilities and items at different costs. Things like the chryssalid, you'll be able to include that in your loadout, and then use burrow, and if you kill somebody with a chryssalid poison, you can then choose to multiply. You'll have more chryssalids. That sort of stuff is intact.
I'm curious, in a multiplayer scenario, about that burrow and how that ends up being used against other soldiers. What is it like to play as the chryssalid and use that particular ability? What are the kinds of surprises you would spring upon an enemy in that case?
You kind of think about it like the seeker, how if you go invisible with the seeker using Ghost Armor, it's just thematically now you're going underground, and you can't move while you're invisible. You want to set it up as an anticipatory tactic where you see your opponent potentially move towards, and then you'll get a free attack on them if they move within this radius. That's a way to use it. You can unburrow anytime you want, but it's a nice way to ambush the player with the enemy with that specific skill.
Come back to GameSpot tomorrow (5am PT, July 29 2015) for the next in our series of XCOM 2 exclusives, an interview with series creative director Jake Solomon.